I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but I was finally pushed into action by a post I read this morning on Hugh Rundle’s blog. What did I do? I dropped the “NC”—the non-commercial use stipulation—on the Creative Commons license I’ve been using on my blog. Rundle writes:
Originally I chose a CC-BY-NC license because I didn’t like the idea of some commercial publisher selling my work as part of a package. Partially this was me thinking “If they’re going to charge, I should get a cut” and partially “They shouldn’t be allowed to charge people for my work that I give away for free”. I am sure you have discerned that these two thoughts are contradictory.
Actually, I’ve never cared about “getting a cut.” But as an open access advocate I was definitely concerned that a commercial interest not be able to profit from work that I was giving away for free. I reasoned the added friction of the “NC” would serve as a deterrent.
But upon further reflection, adding friction at this point really only serves to limit others’ access to my thoughts and ideas. Rundle references a thoughtful post on this very topic written by Bethany Nowviskie back in 2011.
Nowviskie points to the fact that ‘non commercial’ licensing is ultimately self-defeating if your purpose in writing is to spread ideas and put arguments, rather than to make money. CC-BY-NC is a smart choice for someone like Cory Doctorow who wants to release his science fiction novels free to read digitally but simultaneously sell them commercially in hard copy with a traditional publisher, but it’s self defeating if your primary aim is to ‘advance knowledge and praxis’.
Here is the key excerpt from the Nowviskie post referenced by Rundle:
I’m just not bright enough to presume to predict financial aspects of future publishing models in the humanities. Limiting my default scope to non-commercial ventures seems presumptuous and naïve. Current presses and projects I admire are struggling, and if any of my content, bundled in some form that can support its own production by charging a fee, helps humanities publishers to experiment with new ways forward—well, that’s precisely why I CC-licensed it in the first place. I also want to minimize my participation in any system that could lead to an “orphaned works” problem. Perhaps there’s a very clear answer to the question of who gives permission on my behalf if I am dead or incapacitated and my heirs are unreachable or unresponsive. My guess, however—since I am no writer of importance—is that, in my absence, any little roadbump on the path to permission will virtually assure my content not be republished. If it’s already becoming evident that more restrictive enfranchisements slow down re-use of Creative Commons-licensed content, and that US copyright law is geared to support the interests of big business—how hard do we expect future small-potatoes humanities editors to try?
However, it would also be naïve to assert that no-one stands to get rich on humanities content. George Williams is right to cite price-gouging in textbook publishing (and I would add bundled journal subscriptions) as a factor that gives pause to potential droppers of the NC restriction. But (and here I’m back to questioning the ethos-to-ego ratio of the humanities scholar), do I really think that drips and drabs of my own content will make a difference in these vast machines? That for-profit or cost-recovery textbook will certainly go on without me—and that means without my work and whatever good its inclusion might have done, for me professionally and for the spheres of knowledge and praxis I want to advance. (emphases original)
In the sharing of ideas, what Rundle, Nowviskie, and I really want—and, I’ll warrant, what most scholars really want—is simply proper attribution. The CC-BY license provides this. And as Rundle points out, the attribution language in version 4.0 has been nicely clarified. Licensing doesn’t minimize the force of an author’s copyright. It only serves to set the conditions under which a copyrighted work can be (re)used without having to first seek permission. I originally chose “NC” as sort-of planting a flag declaring my stand against the commercialization and commoditization of scholarly communication. But I am persuaded that if I have anything to say, actually sharing those ideas, not standing behind a license, is the best approach for making the case. Removing barriers to access—you know, open access—is the best way to get those ideas out.